DISTRICT VOX // Politics & Art: Spotlighting DC Artists


Art meets politics.

Politics & Art, now in its fourth year, is an annual event presented by Washington Performing Arts’ Mars Urban Arts Initiative and Councilmember David Grosso. This year’s event theme is District Vox, a celebration of the human voice.

Politics & Art: District Vox spotlights D.C.-based artists who use the power of their voices to inspire, entertain, and empower in showcase performances on three stages. The evening provides a snapshot of the vibrant artistry that exists throughout the entire District.

“The symbiotic relationship between art and politics is inescapable, especially in the District of Columbia. I’m proud to host Politics and Art at the Wilson Building again to showcase the vibrant arts community that makes D.C. a world-class city and provides local artists and elected officials the opportunity to meet and discuss the bright future of arts in Washington,” Councilmember Grosso.

This year’s lineup features performances by more than 25 acts, including a wide range of singers, songwriters, spoken word artists, actors, vocal ensembles, and bands. The artists come from all eight wards of the District, reflecting the vital role of the performing arts throughout the community.

(inset: Jeff Goodwin, drummer. Photo credit: John Sample)

(inset: Jeff Goodwin, drummer. Photo credit: John Sample)

Music ranging from go-go and R&B to opera and folk will be represented. Visual artworks by students from DC Public Schools, including third graders from the Takoma Educational Campus and students from Ludlow-Taylor Elementary School, will be on display in the performance spaces.

“In a city where voices rise in song and speech it’s exciting to establish a platform—through the Mars Urban Arts Initiative—for creative artists from all 8 wards who will perform, in words and music, at the seat of our local government: The Wilson Building,” Jenny Bilfield, President & CEO of Washington Performing Arts.




You are classically trained in voice, piano, and guitar. You describe your original music as “jazzy pop for piano and guitar,” and you also perform jazz standards. What draws you to all these different genres, and how do you see them relating to each other?

I walked into jazz through a not so typical door. I started working in the theatre when I was eight, so my first exposure to jazz was the musical theatre versions of songs that doubled as jazz standards.

I was collecting lots of different sounds from early on, though. I had already started playing piano and then cello, so classical music (and a bit of pop) became something not just to listen to but to do. I fell in love with Chopin and Debussy, but I was also enamored with James Taylor, Nancy Griffith, and later Ani Difranco and Jewel. My parents brought me to see singer/songwriters in concert, and when I started playing guitar, they took me to perform at open mics. I lived in a tiny town, so we’d travel an hour to sit in a coffee shop all night, so I could play a song or two – always stopping for Dunkin’ Donuts at one in the morning on the way home.

When I went to college, I thought I’d be a theatre major but the music and dance professors there were terrific, and I ended up being exposed to things I’d never experienced before. I sang in a jazz improvisation class with Anthony Braxton that was wild–and by that I mean I sounded like a wild animal for half of the class; in my experimental music class I had to compose a 12 tone piece for a quartet; I played balafon for a Mande ensemble. My favorite class of all was an African dance class where we danced to live drums for 3 hours at a time. Wesleyan was where I began to write a lot of songs and with all those different sounds ringing in my ears I sort of lost track of genres. I think that’s still reflected in the music I write today.

What do you like about the DC music scene? What would you like to see more of here in the future?

I like that DC is so international and the culture is so rich. I’ve had the chance to play at embassies, political rallies, museums, historic theaters, and national festivals because all of those things are happening here all of the time. The National Cherry Blossom Festival used to have a stage in front of the steps of the Jefferson Memorial– playing there felt monumental. I think other cities are a little more friendly to original music. I was impressed with Austin’s live music scene. It seemed like every bar there had live artists, and so many of them were playing original music. I think it’s harder to make a living playing original music in DC.

Is this your first time performing at Politics & Art? What made you want to apply? Do you see any interaction between politics and art in your music, and has that changed over the years?

This is my first time performing at Politics & Art for me and my artist partner, Seth Kibel. I learned about the opportunity via Facebook, and it was perfect timing. Seth and I had just written a song for the NPR Tiny DeskContest called “Tiny Hands, Big Desk.” Seth had also just released an entire album of political songs called “Seth Kibel Presents: Songs of Snark and Despair” which I sang on. He wrote all of the songs between election day and the inauguration. I had also written a tune in response to Charlottesville, so we had a lot of topical songs that fit into the political art theme, but not a whole lot of opportunities to play them for a live audience. We play a lot of public shows that are meant to appeal to everybody, so songs that take political angles aren’t always a great fit. I think these songs are some of the most important that we’ve written and sharing them live is a very different experience than releasing them via social media.

The event theme this year is District Vox. What does that mean to you? 

I think that’s a great title because everybody in DC has an opinion when it comes to politics! DC is always in the news as the symbol of government but, for us, it’s our neighborhood. It’s an interesting position to be in.

You’ve performed at such a wide variety of venues and with artists of many different genres. Any fun stories to share? 

Well, the most famous person I’ve performed with is Lin-Manuel Miranda.  Lin and I were in “Jesus Christ Superstar” together at Wesleyan, and I guess he tweeted out a video about our performance.

Feel free to share any exciting news or events coming up in your career! 

I have a bunch of shows coming up, and I always post updates on my website so please check out our sites to learn more about Seth and me! Here they are:



DISTRICT VOX // Lineup of performers:

ACHORD (Members of the Washington Performing Arts Men & Women of the Gospel Choir)
Anne Thomas
Ayanna Lee & Philippe the Haitian of Devine Nature
The BlakGold Ensemble
The Capital Hearings
Cody Valentine of Allthebestkids
Copper Rose & Bone
The Darrell Johnson Group
Flo Anito & Seth Kibel
Fly By Light Performance Troupe
Hannah Jaye and the Hideaways
Heather Frank and Jeff Hamlini
Musical: The Improvised Musical
Melanie Edwards
Natalie E. Illum
The Philosopher
Phoenix Amor
Purify Love
Songs for a City
Split This Rock
Stories by Carlos Rosario School Students
Students from KIPP DC
Victoria I. Williams

What: Politics & Art: District VoxWhen: Thursday, June 14, 2018, 5:30pm-8pm

Where: The John A. Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20004

Tickets: Free and open to the public, reservations required: https://politicsandart.eventbrite.com

Politics & Art is made possible in part by the generous support of Washington Gas.
Washington Performing Arts’ Mars Urban Arts Initiative is generously supported by Jacqueline Badger Mars and Mars, Incorporated.

Photo credit (of Flo Anito & Seth Kibel): Jose Burgos

(Article is written in cooperation with Washington Performing Arts )